To football fans around the globe, there’s nothing more infuriating than the so-called “show pony”; a player full of tricks and the ability to beat an opponent but with little end product to show for his skills. Yesterday’s article on Dribblers highlighted, quite surprisingly, that Hamburg made more Successful Dribbles per game than any team in the top 5 leagues in Europe yet a disappointing season saw them finish eighth in the Bundesliga, scoring just 46 Goals over the course of the campaign.

Clearly, there is little correlation between Successful Dribbles and successful football; it’s all about the end product, putting the ball in the net. Cristiano Ronaldo’s early Man United career was the classic example; games filled with endless step-overs that bedazzled opponents and frustrated team mates in equal measure demonstrated a lack of game intelligence that, with age, he has mastered with devastating effect.

We take another look at the 20 Most Successful Dribblers in Europe last season to further assess their habits in possession and -throwing in Key Passes and Shots per Game- highlight the difference between a game-deciding top talent and a full o’ tricks show-pony:


How to Spot a Show-Pony: Further Analysis on Successful Dribblers

Leaving the one-off that is Lionel Messi out of the equation, the average stats of our nineteen were 2.88 Successful Dribbles, 1.87 Shots and 1.81 Key Passes per game. Looking at it another way, however, our top players’ number of Shots were, on average, 64% (1.87/2.88) of their Successful Dribbles and Key Passes were 62% (1.81/2.88) of their Successful Dribbles.

With this in mind, how many of our featured players excelled in both categories compared to our average, thus indicating not merely an intelligence of when to take a man on, but when to make a killer pass and when to take a shot? In such exalted company standards were high but, perhaps surprisingly, only five passed the test from our list:

In 33 appearances for Man United, Nani scored 9 Goals and made 14 Assists. He had 2.5 Successful Dribbles per game but followed up with 3.1 Shots (124%) and 2.36 Key Passes (94%).

Javier Pastore
Pastore bagged 11 Goals and 5 Assists for Palermo in 35 appearances. He had 2.6 Successful Dribbles per game, also managing 2.3 Shots (88%) and made 2.23 Key Passes (85%).

Samuel Eto’o
In 35 appearances, Eto’o scored 21 Goals and picked up 9 Assists. He had 2.7 Successful Dribbles per game and managed 2.5 Shots (92%) and 1.77 Key Passes (65%) for Inter.

Arjen Robben
Scored 12 Goals and made 8 Assists in just 14 appearances for Bayern. Robben had 3.9 Successful Dribbles per game but had 3.4 Shots (87%) and made 2.71 Key Passes (69%).

Renato Augusto
Scored 7 Goals and made 2 Assists in 27 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen. Augusto made 2.5 Successful Dribbles per game, adding 1.6 Shots (64%) and 1.89 Key Passes (75%).

Clearly, this is not to suggest these five were stand-out; it merely highlights their ability to pick out a pass and take a shot in equal measure. Ronaldo (1.91 Key Passes) and Messi (2.03 Key Passes) both fall short of the Key Pass average but Ronaldo’s 5.6 Shots per game from 2.2 Successful Dribbles (254% of the average) and 40 Goals indicate he knows when to pull the trigger now. Messi’s 5.6 Successful Dribbles and 3.7 Shots per game merely highlight his ability to create chances for himself out of nothing.

Returning to the subject of Hamburg, then, it’s worth applying this idea to their main men to highlight just where their problems lie.

Jonathan Pitropia is eleventh for most Successful Dribbles in Europe last season, with 2.8 per game, but has averaged a mere 0.9 Shots per game, a lowly 32% of his Successful Dribbles, way down on the average of 64%.

The same applies to his passing; Pitropia’s 1 Key Pass per game is way down on 35% compared to the average 62%. Diego, for instance, has the same Successful Dribbles but average 2.93 Key Passes. Pitropia’s  poor performance in both categories indicates his lack of judgement with a tendency to over elaborate in possession without much returns.

The same applies to Eljero Elia, fifteenth in our list. He makes 2.6 Successful Dribbles but, like his team mate, has 0.9 Shots per game, which correlates to 34%. His 1.17 Key Passes fare slightly better (45%) but his stats compared to Pastore -above- who made the same number of Successful Dribbles, indicates his need to be far more productive in possession.

Ryan Babel, the ex-Liverpool player, is also guilty of over-elaboration. Babel is ninth on our list for Successful Dribbles with 2.9 per game, but manages just 1 Key Pass per game (34%). His 1.7 Shots (58%) suggest a an eye for goal but with just 1 Goal to his name, it merely highlights his tendency to go on mazy runs that end in shots from the most difficult of positions.

On the other hand, a look at Lille’s Eden Hazard, the subject of so much transfer speculation right now, shows his creativity is superb; 2.7 Successful Dribbles brings about 2.55 Key Passes (94%) but just 0.9 Shots per game (33%) is almost half the average 64%. With 7 Goals, though, Hazard clearly has a decent finish and if he lets fly more often, should comfortable hit double figures next season, wherever he ends up.